Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

In The Darkness Of The Desert

We spend a lot of days waiting in anticipation.  It's safe to say those events we long for alter with age but some of them remain forever.  We wait for the first day of school and the last day of school.  We thrill at the first brilliant bursts of yellow, orange and red leaves in the autumn and the first snowfall that coats everything like white frosting.  After a long, chilly, windy winter we look for the first daffodil and tulip leaves to push through the ground.  We cheer at the first sighting of birds returning from the south.  There is no symphony to equal their songs.  We give an inward sigh at the honeybees finally flying between clover blossoms.

Around the world there are other people and living beings who await change or the arrival of something special.  The Night Flower (Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, March 12, 2019) written and illustrated by Lara Hawthorne presents an annual event and its effect on all who dwell in the surrounding area.  It is a singular spectacle. 

Carnegiea gigantea  

The saguaro cactus is found in the Sonoran desert, which stretches approximately 100,400 square miles/260,000 square kilometers from the southwestern United States to northwestern Mexico.

One night a year the flowers on this cactus unfold.  Their perfume is like ambrosia to native pollinators.  Thousands swarm to feed on the nectar and assist in spreading the pollen and seeds.

At sunrise in the spring certain animals in the Sonoran desert wake.  The tops of the cactus provide a safe perch for birds and woodpeckers make holes in the trunks for homes.  Other colorful blossoms beckon to insects and birds that stop for a sweet sip.

Deer and squirrels use nearby trees with leaves for shade, food and recreation.  As the day gets hotter, activity slows.  Cool spots for resting are sought by the creatures.  They wait for the night flower.  Temperatures drop as the sun sets.  Those that thrive in the darkness move, mingle and seek food.

Green buds on the saguaro cactus open to reveal a stunning white bloom.  Bats swoop for a drink.  When dawn brings new light, birds and bees hurry to enjoy the treat.  The flowers will fade but they leave a fruit behind.  From this a new saguaro will grow.  (Did you know there can be as many as 2,000 seeds in a fruit?  Did you know it takes 100 years for an arm to grow on a saguaro?)

After the three sentence introductory paragraph on the title page, Lara Hawthorne leads us into the desert world of the saguaro cactus with four-sentence (phrase), rhyming poetic descriptions. Lines one and two and three and four create a soothing, rhythmic narrative informing us of the day and night activities of the creatures.  We can feel, like the living beings there, the excitement for this annual happening growing.  We rejoice with them.  Here is a passage.

As the darkness sets in, moths stir in delight,
searching for flowers in the cool desert night.
A fierce, furry hunter with sharp, pointed teeth
howls at the sky on its little pink feet.

To draw our attention to the book, Lara Hawthorne brings us close to the saguaro cactus blossom as the scent invites in eager insects.  What you cannot see are the flecks of gold foil details on every element including the title.  Only Lara Hawthorne remains in its soft white.  To the left, on the back of the open book case, we are given a larger view of the cactus at night.  Creatures move on the ground, an owl sits on an arm, eyes peer from a hole in the trunk, insects fly, and a bat crosses the full moon.  Text placed here represents what would appear on the front flap of a dust jacket.

On the opening and closing endpapers a tiny print of the saguaro cactus, other types of cactus, types of leafy trees and shrubs and some of the animals mentioned in the book spans both pages.  A similar pattern appears within the book as the sun sets.  Rendered in watercolor and colored digitally the images, on heavier, matte-finished paper, span two pages throughout the book.  A full-color palette and intricate details guide us through this spectacular landscape.

Lara Hawthorne moves us close and then takes us back, altering her perspective to further acquaint us with this desert, its flora and fauna.  In one picture our focus is on the tops of the saguaro cactus where birds rest and others peek from the hole-made homes.  Small bushes on sandy soil provide a soft background.  In another visual a hot orange sun spreads heat over red mountains as reptiles seek shelter and insects meander among the plants.

One of my favorite illustrations is a close-up of delicate desert flowers.  Moving among them and savoring the nectar are butterflies, bees, other flying insects and one graceful blue bird with a long beak.  The flowers flow up both sides, along the bottom and to the right of the gutter.  

When you read a book like The Night Flower written and illustrated by Lara Hawthorne, you can't help but be further astounded at the beauty found on our planet.  This is the kind of book necessary to build respect for caring for each habitat.  At the close of the book Lara Hawthorne has a page dedicated to the life cycle of a saguaro, a page for all the parts on a saguaro (They can store up to 240 gallons of water!), two pages supplying further information about ten animals and a single-page glossary.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Lara Hawthorne and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name.  The second link is to the page dedicated to this title.  She shares additional images plus one display which will surprise and astonish you.  Lara Hawthorne has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  There are interior images at Penguin Random House and Templar.  Here's a little bit more information at the National Park Service site about the cactus.

To enjoy the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.

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